Saturday, May 31, 2014

The future without bees is coming ever closer.


When I wrote When Bees Die,    I decided to set it some fifteen years in the future.   Far enough away that governments and people would have become smarter and wiser about the environment and the importance it exerts on our very existence.   Or so I thought.  This article on SalonHow to save the World's Bees Before it's Too Late, describes the situation as becoming worse, not better.  At least a few suggestions are given for what individuals can do to make a difference.

It doesn't seem that industry and government takes the situation seriously.   It's ironic that millions are spent producing and supply pesticides  that end up destroying the small creatures that make the crops possible in the first place.   The article describes how

. . .   "the European Union . . .  recently banned, for two years, three particular types of neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide that’s chemically related to nicotine. It’s a nerve toxin that affects the brain of the bee and any other insect. It’s really toxic to insects, much more than almost anything else we’ve invented before. To illustrate that, a fifth of a teaspoon is enough to kill 250 million bees. In the U.K., which is a pretty small area, we have to buy 80 tons of these chemicals every year — the U.S. figure is much, much higher. So we’re putting tons and tons of stuff into the land which is persistent, it’s systemic, it gets into plants, it gets into pollen and nectar." 

I'm interested to regularly read articles about the importance of bees and the threats they are under, in addition to the benefits they provide humanity.   Keeping this important issue at the forefront of our attention makes it more likely that something positive will be done.  This article in the Huffington Post describes how bees are used to 'sniff out' landmines enabling them to be safely disabled.  They are truly an amazing insect.    Again, I must wonder why we are not doing more to protect this valuable creature.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A modern classroom

You may look at this picture and see something else.  Like eggplants!   But to me the first comparison was  that this was a teacher holding forth on a subject of great interest . . . to her at least.  There's one eager beaver student at the front, hanging on the teacher's every word.  There's the one at the back, no doubt failing the course, who is looking at the ceiling in boredom.   A couple look mystified as to details of quantum mechanics or onomatopoeia and the tall one is angry at missing the first few minutes of recess while the instruction drags on.

But, what about this one:

Definitely hanging on my every word.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Just Show Up


Just show up.   That's the advice of Joshua Becker at his blog, Becoming Minimalist.  That was the advice I gave to an apprehensive 18 year old about to start university.   Perhaps I made it sound almost too easy but it did seem definitely manageable.   I knew from experience that, after the first session or so, only half the students would keep showing up for class.   Some would drop the course, some would decide that they could pass the course by reading the textbook or on-line lecture notes,  some would find the class conflicted with their work schedule--the job they need to pay their tuition and textbooks.

I added a further proviso:   Don't just show up physically; you have to be there mentally as well.  That meant not texting friends or playing games on your phone or surfing the net in class.

That was all.  You certainly didn't need to be wearing 'fancy feathers'.

The relief was plain on the student's face.  My suggestions must have sounded manageable.  I knew she would do more than just sit in class but as they say . . . baby steps.

She's graduating in a few months.   Maybe my advice helped a little.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014



It used to be that gratitude--being grateful--was something that you practised as a child at Christmas:   saying a polite thank you to Auntie Tilda for the socks and underwear that were not on your wish list.   Most of us can imagine feeling gratitude--tremendous gratitude, in fact,--if our numbers finally came up on the Mega Millions lottery.   But more than a few researchers have found that after the initial euphoria, happiness levels return to what they were prior to the win.   For example, this article might give you a new perspective of the benefit of a financial windfall in generating gratitude.

But we should not dismiss the benefits of gratitude.   Scientific research may not promote windfalls but it does believe that regularly practising gratitude--sincere gratitude, not a cursory thank you to Auntie--provides health benefits.   Robert Emmons, a psychology professor at the University of California At Davis, has been a leading researcher in this growing field, termed 'positive psychology.'   His research has found that those who adopt an 'attitude of gratitude'  (now there's a catchy slogan!) as a permanent state of mind experience many health benefits. 

But don't think it's just the affluent that can benefit.  Beyond a certain basic level, more possessions do not increase happiness.   Lots of marketing makes us think it does and there's no doubt that it is easy to assume a causal relationship, but it's just not so.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

How does the writing process start?


I suspect each writer would answer the question uniquely but for me, the first step is to have an idea.  Next, you need to recognize that you have an idea, otherwise it will just slide out of your mind and edge its way into oblivion.  As well, writer needs to be out in the world, at least some of the time.   You can't be thinking of yourself and your picayune problems, menu plans or shopping lists.   No, it's best to be a people watcher and see what events transpire.

I was recently parking my little car on a shopping street and  waiting for a long line of traffic to pass to my left so I could open my driver's side door.   My glance took in an older woman who was engaged in tugging on a plant in a flower bed at the front of a pharmacy.   Over her arm she had slung a plastic shopping bag from which emerged the heads of some of her floral booty.   Now, this wasn't taking place in darkness or even dusk.   No, it was full day--around noon on a Saturday.   I watched in amazement.   The woman was late middle age and conservatively dressed.  I briefly felt the urge to leap from my car and do something or at least say something but then the moment passed.   

It helped that she was unsuccessful in her efforts--at least the one I had been observing.   The plant refused to yield to her grasp and was released.   The woman walked on, scanning her immediate range of vision, presumably for less troublesome quarry.   She saw me gazing at her from inside my car and favoured me with a large smile.  She looked unremarkable and her demeanour displayed no shame at discovery or embarrassment at her actions.   This was when I had a second opportunity and could have rolled down my passenger side window and made a remark or stepped out and gone over and challenged her. But I didn't.   

What would I say?   Something like, "Why are you taking other people's flowers?"   Maybe she was mentally ill.   In that case, surely she deserved a small pleasure.   What were a few flowers?   It wasn't the same as stealing from inside a store, was it?   Would I have said something then?

This churned around in my mind at odd times for several ensuing weeks until it inevitably found its way into a short story that is going to be an entry in a local library's writing contest.    I'll post it here afterwards as the entries can't be previously published.   So, at least her pilfering provided an ultimate purpose for me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Will you stop reading a book?


Forcing oneself to continue reading a book when enjoyment and interest has long since ceased still occurs today but I believe much less frequently than in the past.  Except for students who are compelled by their teacher not only to slog on to the conclusion but also to answer questions as to motive and conflict, not to mention easily overlooked details such as similes and metaphors, many readers today allow themselves to close the book, never to open it again.   Or in the case of e-books, to press the 'delete' button.

If you are still one of the few who sticks with the task,  I wonder at your motive.  You may have paid--perhaps quite a lot--for the book and are determined to extract your money's worth.   Of course, you do not actually receive anything physical for persevering.   It's not like eating a piece of cake that turns out to be dry and tasteless;  in that case you at least become full and have extracted full caloric value.   That you may become ill is a side issue.      

Perhaps continuing to read means that you continue to 'kill' time, assuming that was your goal.   Do people in today's busy world still need to eliminate time?   Many of us barely have enough of it and others have addictive games on their cell phones, like Candy Crush, designed for that purpose.

You might be one of those people who is determined to complete every task they embark on and view it as a sign of weakness to do otherwise.   I wonder if the gardener in the topiary above somehow couldn't quite figure out how to lay down the garden shears.

It might be someone you know and respect recommended the book and you feel you must give it every opportunity if only so that you can declare that you read it from cover to cover and still found it unsatisfactory.   There's always the hope that the book may improve.   Some best sellers are known for being slow starters that end up rewarding those who didn't abandon hope.

More common, I believe, than physically and vocally terminating the reading process by slamming the pages shut or loudly declaring our intent to stop, is simple benign neglect.   Yes, we are still reading the book, we inform anyone who enquires.    No, we haven't given up on it.   We've just become busy with other matters.   We may have even started reading a different book but we have full intention of returning to the first work.   Of course, our friends and relatives forget about our plans or, if not, decide to be discreet and not enquire.  If sufficient time passes we may persuade ourselves that we did indeed finish the book and perhaps our subconscious has even constructed a suitable ending, should anyone ask.   

At this point, the most logical thing, of course, is to donate  the offending item to our local library's book sale so that another person may turn its pages and, we privately admit, perhaps understand where the author was going much better than we ourselves did.   If not . . . well, at least they got it for a reduced price.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mother Nature . . . and wolves.

I love nature.   Who doesn't?   But I must confess that my preferred slice of nature involves bunny rabbits and pretty blossoms and not so much the harsh reality that makes an eco-system work.
Something like this:

 Perhaps I've heard or read too many stories about the 'big bad wolf'.

  But, fortunately Mother Nature is not as squeamish as I am and I had to be awed and amazed by her wisdom at work in this video:

Happy Mothers' Day!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Beauty of Pollination

I was interested to read this study from Cornell University describing how pollinators like bees contribute $29 billion to the U.S.   The insects, bats and birds that provide this valuable service are not compensated, of course, but they do deserve our support and protection.

Have a look at this video with some stunning photography of the Beauty of Pollination.

Saturday, May 3, 2014